Delta (2)

November 11, 2009

More than 3,000 people set Delta straight

Some of Delta Air Lines' best customers are telling corporate bigwigs why they are wrong. More than 3,000 so far have responded to the recent e-mail broadside, which blamed airline delays on general aviation and the current FAA funding system.

"The scheduled carriers' own hub-and-spoke route system is the rotten apple in this barrel," wrote an Arkansas pilot. "When you and your Air Transport Association colleagues insist on figuratively cramming 16 lanes of traffic into a four-lane road two or three times a day, what do you expect will happen?"

Delta had sent messages to its frequent fliers, claiming that the current tax system is unfair to the airlines, and that general aviation is somehow responsible for traffic delays. And this week an AOPA member alerted the association that the Delta captain on his recent flight encouraged first-class passengers to contact their legislators and support the airlines' position.

Here's the truth: Most airline delays are due to the airlines' own scheduling practices and weather. So says the Department of Transportation. General aviation flights are less than 4 percent of the traffic at the nation's 10 busiest airports.

Air traffic control modernization (NextGen) will improve things, but it's not a panacea. It can't make thunderstorms disappear, nor allow two airliners to land simultaneously on the same runway. GA is willing to help pay for NextGen and has accepted the fuel tax increases in the House FAA funding bill (H.R.2881) to do so. The airlines are demanding NextGen but with a tax decrease for themselves.

AOPA had originally asked members to e-mail Delta Air Lines CEO Gerald Grinstein, but some e-mails bounced back. You can help set the record straight by e-mailing Delta customer service.

A Delta frequent flier and pilot from Georgia wrote Grinstein, "I urge you to look out the window sometime at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and count the number of airliners and the number of general aviation and corporate aircraft that operate at your own headquarters. Then look yourself in the mirror and ask, 'Have I been 100 percent honest with my customers?'" In fact, most of the responses came from Delta frequent fliers, many of whom pointed out that GA pilots were also the airlines' best customers.

Airline pilots weighed in, too. A retired 747 captain said, "General aviation aircraft operating at airports served by airlines, especially those served by your airline, are almost never the cause of any delays and you should know that. Ask your own pilots what the causes are." He devoted nearly two pages to the true causes of airline delays.

A Kentucky pilot told Delta's CEO, "As a Delta SkyMiles member, a business traveler, and general aviation pilot, I take offense at your use of my SkyMiles e-mail account to push half-truths and misrepresentations about aviation funding and traffic delays. My use of general aviation for business and pleasure actually allows me to bypass the very airports that Delta serves, so I absolutely do not add to traffic delays or congestion for the airlines."

Some made note of the various taxpayer bailouts of the airlines and the multimillion dollar salaries of airline executives. "The costs of redoing the ramps at LAX to accommodate the new Airbus is not borne by the airlines, but by the taxpayers," from a Massachusetts pilot. "The costs of your pension bailout is not paid for by your airline but borne by your employees and taxpayers. For all the billions of dollars that we taxpayers pay to subsidize your airline's needs and mistakes, you pay a pittance of fuel tax, which you now want to not pay at all. Once again, you are looking for a taxpayer bailout and trying not to accept blame for your bad business decisions."

Finally, many pilots told Delta that they supported the NextGen air traffic modernization program and were willing to pay for it.

"I want to do my part to support this new system that will provide greater safety for all of us," wrote one. "GA is willing to help pay for NextGen and has accepted the fuel tax increase in the House FAA funding bill (H.R.2881) to do so. I respectfully ask you to cease this misinformation campaign and work with AOPA to seek fair and balanced solutions that will improve our nation's ATC system for all who use it," wrote a Tennessee pilot.

Updated: August 8, 2007, 10:46 a.m. EDT